The old Jakobstettel Country Inn in St. Jacobs will be put to good use in the coming months as community members work together to prepare it for welcoming and temporarily housing Ukrainian refugees.
Clinton Rohr is a resident of St. Jacobs, a volunteer with Woolwich Healthy Communities and the retired former executive director of the Woolwich Community Health Centre.
He said that in March, he heard Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy begging the world for help. Around that time he was walking by the empty Jakobstettel house.
“I ended up walking by (the house). I was feeling incredible distress. And this house just jumped out at me and said ‘here I am, here’s a place some people, some Ukrainian refugees can stay.’”
He subsequently presented his idea to Woolwich Healthy Communities.
“The reception of the idea was very positive,” said Rohr. “The question obviously became, ‘how? How will we do this? Who are the partners we might work with?’” The first step was to seek out the owner and see if the house, which had sat empty for at least three years, would be available as an option. The owner agreed.
Once the ball was rolling, volunteers with Woolwich Healthy Communities realized settlement work is not the group’s expertise. So they partnered with other groups such as the KW Multi-Cultural Centre, which has a division to help settle Ukrainian refugees. The KW Multi-Cultural Centre staff will provide food, among other supports.
Now, the old inn needs to be made ready to house refugees, and Rohr is hoping the community will rise to the challenge.
“OK, the house, specifically inside, is going to need a major cleaning. We assessed it as being 80 per cent furnished at this point, which is really very excellent. Unfortunately, the house had been vandalized a bit,” said Rohr.
He says the most pressing volunteering need is for two co-captains to come forward to work with him to help coordinate the project.
The house has 10 bedrooms. Rohr envisions the refugees will stay on a rolling basis for about 90 days at a time, and believes the house will comfortably hold about ten to 15 people at once, and a maximum of 20.
Rohr says the goal is that the house will be ready and refugees can arrive next month. But to meet this goal, much work needs to be done.
“We have to look at it in terms of its potential. If we look at it in terms of the work that it’s going to take, it’s almost overwhelming.”
Rohr is dividing the work into four main categories, including house preparation, sustaining the environment of hospitality, property care and fundraising.
Ongoing friendship and support for the Ukrainians will also be a big need. He says the project will rely on church groups and others to come forward to help.
That said, offers of help are already pouring in, notes Rohr. Through word of mouth alone, people are contacting Rohr directly to offer their help. For example, he says volunteers have come forward to mow the lawn and help with flowerbeds, Paul Kalbfleisch, a St. Jacobs neighbour, has a seven-passenger van he will use to drive the refugees where they need to go. Anne Brubacher, another neighbour, is ready to help as needs arise. Locally-based Ukrainian speakers have come forward for translation needs, and the owner of the house will be installing a new kitchen.
Another large need is volunteers to fundraise to cover the cost of hydro, utilities, insurance and to finish furnishing the house.
“We in Woolwich have sensed the need to take part in responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis. And because we have the resources and the compassion and the capacity, we’re going to do our part,” said Rohr.